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Strasburg wastewater treatment plant: Town has time to develop alternative plans

'Buried paperwork' results in sticker shock for officials

By Sally Voth

The Strasburg Town Council has time to come up with alternatives to the grossly underestimated wastewater treatment plant construction project, Town Manager Judson Rex told the finance and personnel committee Monday night.

Town council members continued to reel from the difference between the bids that came in from the project earlier this month and the engineer's estimate.

An oversight, due to documents being "buried under paperwork," according to engineering firm Malcolm Pirnie, meant the officials expected bids for the new wastewater treatment plant to come in at around $20 million.

Instead, the lowest bid was $31.4 million, and came from PC Construction Co., based in South Burlington, Vt. The town has already paid Malcolm Pirnie $2 million in design work.

While Malcolm Pirnie staffers knew by mid-September that the estimated cost of the project had ballooned to about $34 million, the message didn't get passed along to town staff before bids were advertised.

The town would need a nearly $37 million loan once construction, design and contingency costs were added in, Rex said, compared to about $24.7 million originally estimated. About $4.7 million in grants would have brought the earlier figure down to about $20 million, he said.

The new figure means the town would have to come up with an additional $500,000 a year in debt service -- or about $1.3 million annually.

"I do think we have one other choice, which is to refuse to do it," Councilman Scott Terndrup said at Monday's meeting. "Line in the sand, folks. We're not doing this.

"I think we ought to also consider the option of our taxpayers have put up $20 million, and that's as far as we go, and let the chips fall where they may."

Councilman Rich Orndorff also expressed anger.

"It makes me downright angry and I'm angry at our engineers," he said. "I don't think I can consciously saddle our citizens and us with another $11 million. I certainly would be standing on our engineers' desk and basically saying, 'How'd you make this mistake guys? That's what you get paid the big bucks for, and you're that far off.' It just, quite frankly, it smells."

Terndrup said the state or federal government needs to chip in some money to pay for cleaning the water that heads into the Chesapeake Bay.

"Because our taxpayers are coming up [with] more than their fair share of cleaning up this river," he said. "It's time for, I don't know who it is, but all these people who come here and tell us about how much they love the river, it's time to put up your money."

Rex said the current treatment plant is running at about 72-percent capacity, but if there would be three months of steady rain, that goes up to 90 percent.

"I don't feel like we have to just totally push forward and build this tomorrow," he said. "We need time to find and research all the options that are available. We have time to do that.

"Since this hit the fan, [engineers and designers] have been seeking us out."

While other localities are getting grants that cover 40-50 percent of their wastewater treatment projects, Strasburg is only getting about 8 percent of its project in grant funding, Terndrup said.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com


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